The 3rd International Plagiarism Conference, held in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, concluded Wednesday night sending its 200 plus participants heading home to all corners of the world. With representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, Finland, Australia, Germany, India and many more countries, it truly lived up to both its name and its stated goal.
Over the course of the three-day event, I met with many of the brightest minds in plagiarism fighting and heard talks that both inspired and educated in the fields of academic and artistic honesty.
Rather than simply provide a brief overview of what I saw and experienced. I’ve decided to go over it in more detail and provide a slightly more thorough overview of the goings on, as I experienced them.
Monday, June 23rd
The only big event on Monday was a user group for Turnitin in the early evening. However, it was a very busy two-hour session with three different speakers including Adrian Slater, a UK-based attorney who was very gentle on me with my understanding of UK copyright law, myself and John Barrie, the CEO and one of the founders of iParadigms, the makers of Turnitin.
First, Will Murray and Gill Rowell, both of whom represented Northumbria Learning and were organizers of the event, spoke about recent events and changes at their institution, including the creation of plagiarismadvice.org, their new resource site.
Slater focused on legal issues that surround targeting different groups of users. The dialog was interesting especially as it pertained to the handling of international students and singling them out for plagiarism detection.
After Slater, I gave a shortened version of my talk on protecting your content on the Web, a video that will be posted shortly, and then John Barrie gave a very good talk his vision for Turnitin and where he felt the product fit into the educator’s toolkit. Specifically, he wanted to see it move beyond a “plagiarism cop” and become part of a larger solution to make grading and assignments better.
After the sessions, we were invited to an hour-long walking tour of historic Newcastle, on which many of the images below were taken.
Tuesday, June 24th
The first full day of the conference, it started with a welcome address by Dr. Malcom Read of JISC and Jude Carroll of Oxford Brookes University. It was a great introduction to the conference and the theme of this year’s event and it, in turn, launched the audience into the first keynote.
Keynote 1: “R U 4 Reel”
The keynote was somewhat philosophical, talking about why plagiarism is such an offense and the importance of verifying the discourse by ensure that one is using their own words when conveying information. With so many philosophical conversations about how plagiarism is impossible or doesn’t exist, it was nice to see the other side of the coin so eloquently presented.
Also, he talked at length about plagiarism as senseless mimicking and why the the behavior had to be battled in order to encourage students to show what they had learned and help their instructors.
It was a great talk all around and a perfect intro into the rest of the conference.
Parallel Session 1: “Essays for Sale: Time for Legal Regulation?”
For the first workshop, I attended was entitled “Essays for Sale: Time for Legal Regulation?” and was put on by Martin Jones (Many thanks for the help remembering “M. Jones”!).
The talk went a slightly different direction than I thought it would. Rather than discussing should such essay sites be regulated, the talk analyzed if it was practical.
The end conclusion was that any attempt to use current laws to regulate essay sites would be a very difficult stretch and likely to fail. In the end, it got me thinking about other avenues of legal attack against plagiarists other than pure copyright issues so I’ll have much to discuss from this workshop later.
This was my session so I have very little to say other than it went well and my sincere thanks to those who attended!
Keynote 2: “Maintaining confidence: honesty and authenticity in examinations”
The second keynote was by Isabel Nisbet of Ofqual. It was a research-intensive talk that dealt with current levels of student cheating, the difficult of getting reliable numbers on that subject and how such dishonesty can impact integrity of the entire education system.
It was insightful to get a glimpse at the current realities of how students view plagiarism and it made me wonder how much of this problem will seep onto the larger Web. Also, it was interesting to see just how conflicting some of the research is.
Parallel Session 2: “On the utility of plagiarism detection software”
For this workshop, I joined long-time friend Dr. Deborah Weber-Wulff of the FHTW Berlin and the the Copy, Shake and Paste blog. Many on this site may remember her from when iParadigms accused iPlagiarismCheck of abusing their service to run their own.
Her talk was relatively familiar to many as she went back over her results from her tests of various plagiarism detection systems.
The more exciting announcement was that she is going to expand and repeat her tests in September of this year, something I know many will look forward to the results of. I am also looking forward to assisting with this testing any way that I can.
Parallel Session 3: “Why students cheat (in their own words as well as those of others)”
For the third workshop, I attended a session put on by, Smith, H. & Ridgway, J entitled “Why students cheat (in their own words as well as those of others)”.
The talk focused heavily on face-to-face interviews with students as they explained their attitudes on cheating, especially plagiarism. It was a unique viewpoint that got behind the numbers of plagiarism and provided some insight on the mentality of students who do engage in dishonesty.
Another great talk with some very important statistics behind it.
Parallel Session 4
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the final workshop of the day. Both options were targeted at Turnitin users and we, Crystal and I, needed to get back to the hotel to prepare for the dinner that night. So, with permission from the organizers, we ducked out a bit early to go get ready.
The dinner that night was at an eclectic restaurant in Newcastle entitled “As You Like It” It was a great dinner with lots of great non-plagiarism-related conversation. I think, more than anything, it was the international highlight of the event, with people across the globe getting together for some food, wine and laughter.
Wednesday, June 25th
Everyone came back for the final day tired (and in some cases a big hung over) from the dinner the previous night. However, things got off to an early start with the Sponsor’s Address.
John Barrie spoke for the second time, addressing many of the points as he did in his first talk. By pointing to some of the new tools iParadigms was releasing and his own personal vision, he pushed the use of Turnitin as a more holistic approach to improving the academic climate and encouraged teachers to avoid using the tool in a way that encouraged divisions between instructors and students.
It was another great talk by John, who despite the jet lag did two great presentations.
Keynote 3: “Examination of changes in the use of digital technologies for the monitoring of academic integrity issues at University level”
The third keynote, presented by Dr. Garry Allan of the Royal Melbourne INstitute of Technology in Australia was entitled “Examination of changes in the use of digital technologies for the monitoring of academic integrity issues at University level”.
The talk focused heavily on the need to focus on evidence-based writing in colleges and about how most college essay writing has little to do with what a student is asked to do in the work force.
I had several opportunities to talk with Dr. Allan over the course of the five days I was in the UK and his perspective about changing the assignment structure was very different from many at the conference but very refreshing at the same time.
Parallel Session 5: “An Approach to Detecting Article Spinning”
The session I attended was entitled “An Approach to Detecting Article Spinning” and was presented by Mr. James Malcom of the University of Hertfordshire.
This was easily one of my favorite talks as it dealt with many of the same technologies I wrestle with every day here at Plagiarism Today when dealing with spammers. Specifically, it dealt with tools that try to avoid duplicate content detection, either by Google or more traditional plagiarism detection applications, by replacing synonyms for various words.
His conclusion was that Turnitin and similar systems did a reasonable job of detecting such spinning but that his own creation, Ferret, does a slightly better job. However, he admits that it currently can not search the Web, something another version will be able to do soon.
It was a great talk that gave me a great deal of ideas and topics for later.
Parallel Session 6
I unfortunately missed this section as well. I had to take care of some personal items to prepare for a very early departure the next morning and was not able to attend any of the sessions during this block. I did return for lunch and the next keynote.
Keynote 4: “Disruptive Scholarship: An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Re)Use, (Re)Mix, (Re)New”
Eccentric is perhaps the only word to describe Gerry McKliernan. He is an unusual character that stands out even amongst a cast of unusual characters (Needless to say, he and I got along great). However, his keynote, entitled “Disruptive Scholarship: An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Re)Use, (Re)Mix, (Re)New” was the last keynote of the event and stood out as the most forward-thinking of them all.
The talk focused heavily on Web 2.0 technologies such as Wikis and the idea of collaborative scholarship. The talk was inspirational in nature and pulled many references from the local history, especially the Roman efforts to wall in the city to protect it from invaders from the north.
For those who are very familiar with Web 2.0 it might have been a bit fundamental but it was a very powerful message for a room that desperately needed to hear it.
Panel Discussion: “Are online essay sites exploiting students?”
This was by far the most anticipated event of the conference. It seemed that, ever since I touched down in Newcastle, that others were whispering about this event.
It was a 2 v 2 panel discussion dealing with essay sites and their role in academia. However, one of the panelists was Barclay Littlewood, operator of one of the major UK essay sites.
It seemed prepared to be a knock-down-drag-out intellectual steel cage death match in the making. Littlewood was prepared to defend himself and his site in front of the most hostile crowd imaginable. There was even some controversy among the conference-goers as some felt that it was inappropriate to give him a platform at all.
However, the street fight of the minds never took place. Littlewood, at the last minute, backed out and was unable to attend. He instead sent his opinion in the form of a paper, which was read in by the chair of the debate. However, since he clearly did not share Littlewood’s viewpoints, the arguments came off as weak and watered-down. Still, it was the best that he could do under the circumstances and more than I would have expected anyone to do for me if I could not attend a debate.
The result was the the other speaker in favor of essay sites, despite making many excellent points, seemed hopelessly outnumbered. Though he managed to paint essay sites as a market response, as natural as gravity, to problems within the education system, without an ally, he seemed to be drowned out.
In the end, it was yet another highlight for the conference for me, despite the limitations, and that is owed to the very creative presentations all three provided.
Personally, my pull away from it was this: While there are clearly issues with the current education system when it comes to evaluating students, the ends do not justify the means when it comes to essay sites.
Short, sweet and perfect. Will Murray, one of the organizers, gave the talk and it only lasted about ten minutes. Letting everyone out a little bit early and giving us all time to say goodbye. He wrapped things up nicely and net everyone out at a good time.
Overall, I would say that this was easily one of the best put together conferences I have ever attended, bar none. The organizers of this event were great, everyone was very polite and helpful and the event went off without any major snags. You quite literally can not ask for a better conference.
If I were going to offer criticism, it would be of the technology. The main hall had no outlets for laptops, very frustrating to me personally as we had formed an EeePC fan club in the stands, and the wifi was a bit dodgy. It didn’t work reliably and required two logins to gain access.
However, those are minor issues at worst. I deeply enjoyed the conference and I am already writing my paper for the 2010 one.
With luck, I will be in Newcastle again soon…
I want to quickly offer a very special thanks the the organizers of the conference, especially Will, his wife Helen and Gill, all of whom not only put on an incredible conference but made both me and Crystal feel incredibly welcome in England.
Also, I want to say thank you to all of those who attended the event for the great conversations, food for thought and even a few laughs. My memories of you will always be cherished.
Finally, an especially big thanks to all of the locals of Newcastle. You are, without a doubt, the friendliest people I have met in my travels. You know how to make an outsider feel welcome.
Finally, for those who enjoy vacation slides, here are the photos we took on the trip. We, sadly, did not get a lot of the conference because most of the time was spent listening to speakers and we didn’t want to interrupt their talks. However, you can get a great taste of Newcastle within these images.